Warmth, wit and soul are great qualities for a musician, not only for their personal merit, but artistic benefit as well.

Pianist Derek Han will be bringing these and other assets to Salt Lake City when he appears as guest soloist with the Utah Symphony on Friday and Saturday, May 5 and 6, at Abravanel Hall.Arden Watts will give a pre-concert talk at 7:20 each evening in the First Tier Room; and the symphony performance begins at 8 p.m. Tickets can be purchased through ArtTix at 801-355-ARTS or 1-888-451-ARTS, at the ArtTix outlets at Abravanel Hall or the Capitol Theatre, or online at www.arttix.org.

"I got my start by pure chance," Han told the Deseret News. "We had a piano while I was growing up, and my father would play on it for five minutes a year at Christmas, until we all begged him to stop. But my parents thought it was a rather expensive piece of furniture to have around, and we should probably make use of it.

"My parents got my older sister to take piano lessons, but she decided she would rather have ice-skating lessons instead. So I said, 'OK, I'll take (piano lessons).' I had no idea what it meant; it was kind of a sibling rivalry thing," he said.

"My first teacher taught only beginners, and he would go from house to house in the neighborhood. He came and taught me my first lesson, and at the second lesson, he asked how I liked it -- I guess a lot of kids got bored or something. I looked at him very seriously and said, 'I'm going to be a concert pianist.' "

Han went on to do just that. He made his orchestral debut at age 10, when he performed with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra in Ohio, and he graduated from Julliard at 18, where he had studied on scholarship.

"It was a great experience," Han said of his teenage years at Julliard. "It was a lot of fun living in New York at the age of 15. I had a lot of broadening experiences; we got to attend concerts, operas and plays.

"You had to either be in an orchestra or a choir (at Julliard), so a lot of pianists sang in the choirs. I'm a terrible vocalist. I can't carry a tune to save my life. So I decided my best contribution was to sort of lip-sync the songs," he said.

Han also began playing orchestral piano parts. When he was 16 years old, he played in Mahler's Sixth Symphony.

He also launched his international career when he won first prize at the Athens International Piano Competition. He went on to international acclaim, not only at the keyboard but also as artistic director of the Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra and artistic adviser of the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra.

Han said that while he was in Moscow he had the opportunity to work with director Pavel Kogan. Kogan, incidentally, will conduct the Utah Symphony when Han plays with the orchestra.

"It's always a thrilling experience to work with (Kogan)," said Han. "He's an extraordinary musician. The first time we met was 20 years ago. We did a recital in Milan together; he was playing the violin then. We did all three Grieg Sonatas. It's always a great homecoming to play with Pavel."

It will probably also be like a homecoming to be playing Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2, which Han recently recorded with the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra, with Kogan conducting. The program will also include Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5.

"This is one of the most well-known, beautiful pieces," Han said of the work. "It's a better symbol of the universality of music as a language. We each have our own individual experiences, but we all know what he means. You can hear tenderness, wistfulness and sometimes even a bit of melancholy. It transcends every boundary and every language."

You can reach Rebecca Cline by e-mail at rcline@desnews.com